What I Did Not Do During My Summer Vacation

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I was on vacation during the month of July. I ceased all work related activities.

I also didn't...

  • Read a USATODAY
  • Eat airport food
  • Shave
  • Tell a passenger their flight cancelled... just for the fun of it
  • Turn my back and walk away from the TSA while they attempted to explain the rules
  • Make small talk with a new hire pilot about what they flew before this
  • Set an clock alarm with a pencil so as to not touch the buttons with my fingers
  • What CNN Airport News Network
  • Wear a tie
  • Watch sailboats from the cockpit of jet wishing I was down there
  • Iron anything
  • Get excited about finding a People, US Magazine and OK! in the same seat back pocket
  • Ride in a hotel van telling horror stories about flying with my crew while one non-airline person cries silently to themselves in the back
  • Send my phone through an X-ray machine with the "Get me out of this bag!" ringtone set to fire in T minus 10 seconds
  • Drink an emergency shot of airplane coffee
  • Wear a five point harness (almost though. Considered racing a go-cart)
  • Use outlook for email
  • Touch a thrust lever
  • Do a checklist (making a list now. Close)

It was a blissful month away from the airport. I return to the cockpit tomorrow. I just hope they didn't move any of the buttons around.

Is the First Officer Actually a Pilot?

Wright-BrothersSince the beginning, there have always been two pilots up on the flight deck. Had it not been for the Wright Brothers, maybe we'd only have one seat up there. It's a common misconception that the First Officer (commonly referred to as the copilot in the movies or 'gear monkey' in real life) isn't really a pilot. This is false. They are just as qualified as the Captain. The real question though is... are they essential?

This takes us back to the Wright Brothers.

Pilots are narcissists who need an audience. We need someone to laugh at our jokes and make us feel important. We need someone to entertain us when we get tired of monitoring the autopilot. We also need someone to humbly do the dirty work so we can keep our hands clean.

This need for validation is  what encouraged the Wright Brothers to take to the skies in the first place. That and sibling rivalry.  The day Orville beat Wilbur in a bike race is the day Wilbur said, "Oh yeah! I'm gonna put wings on a bike! Lets see who's laughing then, Bro!"

And the race to the air began. While the endeavor initially was a game of one-upmanship, soon the master/sidekick team was traveling the world demonstrating their magical flying machine. The modern First Officer was born. Orville out getting the Flyer ready, Wilbur winking to the ladies in the audience, drinking his coffee and passing out rectangular wings to the kids.

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Yes, of course the first aircraft only had one seat but as flight durations got longer than a single hill the sole Pilot in Command grew tired of hearing himself tell the same corny jokes out loud and demanded a second seat be installed for comic relief. It was only natural to bring along the guy that new almost as much about the airplane since he was out preflighting and making sure the Captains name was painted crisply and legibly under his window. Oh, and if the paint was chipped... There would be hell to pay.

So, a second seat was mounted but had no actual controls. It was there simply to hold a warm body. And to balance the airplane, of course. (As planes got longer, flight attendants were also added for this reason.)

In time, as aircraft reliability increased, naturally the First Officers abilities improved as the bar for excellence was lowered. A natural medium was found balancing the skills of the cockpit crew. A give and take relationship has developed where the copilot is there to ensure the Captains ego isn't damaged by laughing at his jokes and ensuring the flight is operated safely so no paperwork has to be filled out.

They are essential flight deck officers who may be replaced by Siri now that we can use our portable electronic devices through all phases of flight.

I'm just not sure an Iphone can run the checklist so I can concentrate on what I will say to Letterman or Anderson Cooper in the event of an unlikely water landing.

Living in Hotels - It's Us or The Bedbugs

Pet-Urine-Black-Light-Inspection
Pet-Urine-Black-Light-Inspection

I spend about a ten nights a month in hotels. I’ve been doing this job for fourteen years. I’ve slept (or attempted to sleep) in a hotel bed roughly 1700 times since then. I’ve learned a few things about survival along the way. I’ve not caught any nasty infections, have maintained a relatively healthy immune system and have woken up most mornings rash free. How do you stay so healthy while galavanting around that petri dish, you may ask? Very carefully.

I have a fine tuned hotel regimen that I will now offer you so that you too can wake up looking like the happy and well rested humans on the poster in the elevator. “Good Day? No, Great Day!”

First off… Everything is Hazmat. Every time your skin touches anything that didn’t come from the airlock chamber that you call your suitcase needs to be sanitized immediately. And remember to respect that airlock and treat it as the clean room that it is. It is your only fortress of solitude in the battle between you and the microscopic threats that are everywhere. Don’t put it on the bed or anything else that probably is infested with bedbugs. I bring bungee cords and suspend my luggage from the shower curtain rod. I coat the cords with hand sanitizer after pulling them from their home in the jar of rubbing alcohol. Most mornings there is a pile of dead bacteria directly underneath. I snuff out the barely alive ones with my shower shoes.

Yes, shower shoes… Always wear shower shoes! They aren’t just for the shower. They are your best friend soldier. Anytime you march along that war zone they call ‘vacuum annually carpet’ make sure you lace up your boots. One morning you will wake up and feel a pile of goo where your foot once was and regret that you loaned your shower shoes to that hobo in the last campaign.

Never touch the alarm clock, TV remote or phone with your bare hands. Strike that. Never touch anything with your bare hands. You know where your hands have been but you have no idea where the hands of the thousands of other vagabonds who have used those things have been. And most humans have two of them so you need to be especially cautious. After sanitizing my body upon entering the room I wrap my hands and forearms in garbage bags and rubber band them off at the wrist and elbow. For the entire evening I interact with the world through this glorious layer of plastic. Resist the urge to touch you face and dear lord don’t eat anything. Once the outer layer has been compromised it can only be used on tainted surfaces. Don’t touch your toothbrush or cell phone. Don’t fiddle with your Ipad. All those are off limits now. And for goodness sake, don’t touch your face!

A common question I get is how to eat in such a virus laden wasteland. It’s a tough one. I’m not gonna sugar coat this one. The microwave is off limits because I’ve known too many people who’ve dried their socks and undergarments (you know who you are) in the microwave so your only option is food from your safe place, your suitcase. Bring your own utensils, too. Avoid the urge to eat food dropped on the floor or mattress. Leave the three second rule at the front desk when you check in. Remove your garbage bag protection, disinfect your hands and eat quickly without touching anything. If the TV is on and the shows ends, suck it up and watch Two and Half Men until you are done.

A common misconception is that it is safe to remove your shower shoes in the shower. Wrong. Your body’s immune system is no match to the layer of filth that has evolved along the bottom of that porcelain deathtrap. Even shower shoes aren’t enough. Tiny monsters with foot fetishes can easily scale the inch of plastic that separates you from instant toe fungus. I soak several bath towels in Lysol concentrate and line the shower floor with them. I use the pine scented variation because I like it when my feet smell like a forest afterwards.

And back to bedbugs. There is nothing you can do about them. They are everywhere. You will get them. You will itch. You will wake up with bites and take them home to your family. It's a gift from the road. A free gift that you will be reminded of every time you look at your once supple but now pockmarked skin. It's your badge of honor or your Scarlet Letter depending on which side of your bedbug infested bed you woke up on.

Using these tips I’m sure you can enjoy your stay in hotels like I do and make it the home away from home you deserve. Word of advice though. If you’re watching TV and a news program airs about hotel cleanliness it’s best to turn it off quickly. Be sure to turn it off before they get to the part about TV remotes. When they shine the black lights on that germ magnet it illuminates like a light saber. You’ll be using your Pinesol smelling big toe to unplug the TV from the wall.

Also, get rid of the bedspread. That thing is garnish that gets washed annually.

But They Do Have Free Breakfast

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hotelbreakfast

When I was a young airline pilot and new to ‘the road’ I ranked hotels by their proximity to good food and entertainment. Now, I judge hotels on two things: internet speed and shower pressure.

Oh, and free breakfast.

I’m not even a breakfast guy. But when it’s free – I’m a kid in a carb filled candy store. I pirouette around the kids begging their parents for another ‘home-made’ waffle with my tray of stale bagels, English muffins and knock-off Cheerios (Crunchy O’s, for the record). I feel like a malnourished Fred Astaire with a bowl of generic biscuits and gravy dancing to CNN Headline News.

Some hotel meals are better than others. Some are simply offering something so they can entice the road warriors. This way they can add another checkmark on Hotels.com along with “In room safe” and “Fitness Room”.

At least they can say they have a gym.

I stayed at a hotel once that had a bagged loaf of bread next to a toaster with a tub of butter and a communal jar of jelly by its side. Jelly is so much more filling when a knife full has bread crumbs and chunks of butter from the last freeloader mixed in. But hey, it was free and I passed the solitary knife to the pilot to my left when I was done and recognized the Stockholm Syndrome look in his eyes. I said, “Here you go Patty Hearst.”

People who aren’t in the industry always assume our life is like a vacation won on Price Is Right. “Oh, you’re going to Chicago?! You need to go downtown and have a pizza at Gino’s East and then take a stroll down the famed Magnificent Mile.”

Let me tell you what that involves. First of all… we often don’t have that much time. Often twelve hours in the hotel in which some of that should be for legitimate rest. So let’s say four hours in the hotel. Subtract getting ready in the morning and washing the funk from the airplane off you when you get to the room. Two hours remain. We typically stay near the airport which is rarely near anything unique to that city. So now it’s a cab ride for this pizza… a roundtrip cab ride that’s thirty minutes each way. We’re looking at a fifty dollar pizza that has to be sucked down so you can get back to the hotel in order to wake up early enough to enjoy free breakfast in the morning.

Typically dinner is at another American chain restaurant that is within walking distance to the hotel. And regardless what State we are in, we can look out the window of that restaurant and see a Bed Bath and Beyond, a Wall-Mart or a Home Depot. “Anytown USA”. These restaurantvilles are the evolution of the truck stop. And before that they were the saloons the pony express riders would stop in to share stories from the road.

“Oh, you’re riding west through the Nebraska Territory? Don’t stop in Omaha. They don’t have free breakfast.”

Why it is Imperative you Land a Pilot

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This article was floating around Facebook today explaining why it is imperative you land a pilot. 6 reasons to be exact. Since I am a pilot, I figured I’d explain my reasoning why scoring a Jet Captain should be on your to-do list. While you may find a man irresistible who gets paid to strap himself to a hurtling piece of metal for a living think about this: that same man safely brings that metal back down to Earth while dodging birds, kites and the occasional errant birthday party balloon. How sexy it must be to imagine him in the cockpit driving the airplane to the gate as quickly and safely as possible because he needs to use the restroom after pounding coffee for the last few hours. Even though these notions are enticing enough, let me tell you other down to Earth reasons why dating a pilot is a real treat. And if you’re so lucky to marry one, I’ll tell you the secrets you have in store for you. I should know. I am a pilot.

If you’re into jet setting.

Being with a pilot means you get bootstrapped to your throttle jockey’s pass privileges. This is not automatic though. He may already have his drinking buddy listed as his ‘domestic partner’ so they can take free trips down to the islands or Vegas together. Once you’ve proven your worth though, imagine traveling for nearly free as long as there are seats available on the flight you are hoping to climb aboard during peak traveling season when everyone else is willing to pay to get there. You can look forward to off season trips to cold beaches and icy ski slopes. And while travel is cheap you aren’t afforded any extra privileges in the TSA line so if you get bumped from the flight because there is no room for your cheap ass you can go home with the memory of being harassed and possibly man handled by a security agent – for free!

Built in breaks.

As much as you may love your man it’s nice to spend some time apart. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, as they say. If your pilot is junior in the airline you can look forward to him being away even more often giving you even more time to watch bad tv alone on the couch. And because he is junior you can look forward to Wednesday night date night because he will be working weekends and only be home a few days during the week. If you have a normal nine to five job you will enjoy many weekends out with your girlfriends telling them about how awesome your new man is. Practice this speech because you will be telling it again at all major holiday gatherings until your flyboy is seasoned enough in the airline to hold a decent schedule.

Conquer your fear of flying. Was your grandmother surprised when you told her you were dating an aviator? Did she remind you of your fear of flying and the time you peed on yourself when you were a little girl? Well, any fears you may have had will be as easy as a bed time story when he comes home and tells you about his day. If he brings another winged warrior over and they have a few beers then you’d better leave the room and start packing depends before you fly. Your fears will be realized when he casually tells you about the near misses, low fuel warnings and the time he volunteered to be the ‘pathfinder’ through the storms just because he wanted to get to the hotel before the restaurant closed.

Everyone likes a man in uniform.

And who doesn’t love a veteran pilot in a season uniform? You’ve enjoyed a four day break from your Jet Driver while he’s been out dodging storms, avoiding calamity and spilling coffee on himself. You can’t wait for him to come home. Imagine the love you will feel when you see him walking from the car looking fine in his stripes. He’s been gone for four days and to avoid overloading his suitcase with extra bulk he’s packed just one uniform. The one he is wearing… the same one he left wearing four days ago. Maybe he spent a few extra hours in the sun waiting for a late hotel van or a little extra time in the rain kicking the tires of his jet. He’s not just your pilot. He’s your road warrior. And he has the smells of the road to prove it.

Free stuff Your man will bring you all kinds of gifts from the road. You will never want for little bars of soap, shampoo and if he is really cheap – really bad toilet paper. Your bookshelf and magazine rack will be stock full of gossip magazines and bad fiction. Your couch throws will be thin airline blankets and your pantry will be full of snack mix and V8. You will never have to go to the Dollar Store again! And you thought you had it made with the last nine-to-five guy you dated. His free pens and office supplies don’t stand a chance next to the bad wine mini bottles he will pull out of his flight bag.

As an airline pilot I can assuredly say that my wife made the best decision of her life when she chose me. She’s a lucky lady and repays me with endless bottles of sunscreen to keep my weathered skin healthy and kicking for many years in the sun to come.

I May Be A Jedi Now

Obi Stork

In order to get into the Mumbai airport you need a boarding pass. You need to present this to the bearded man with the gun and the second gun in the holster around his waist. Several signs around this large man warn passengers not to even attempt approach him within 2 hours of your departure time. "Passengers MAY not enter the airport before 2 hours of departure!"

We were there an hour or so before this window of opportunity. We didn't have a boarding pass because we were flying standby and would need to talk to a ticket agent to get the pass. It was a hundred degrees outside.

We waited our turn in line. We were on deck and my wife yielded all dialog to me. I approached the man and offered my typical friendly greetings. No response from him. Not even a hint of a smile.

"Boarding pass?" He barked.

"You see, we don't have a boarding pass. We are traveling standby and we have to get our boarding pass from inside." I offered.

"Boarding pass?!" He barked again. Louder this time.

I smiled and laughed. He sounded like Americans when a foreigner doesn't recognize what they are saying so they just speak louder.

Again I tried to explain but he motioned us off to his superior who had a bigger beard and bigger gun.

I explained that we were traveling standby and showed him the paperwork we had to say so and then pulled out my ID and said "We're employees and traveling standby and need to get in to talk to an agent."

"Employees?" He asked looking at my ID. "Where is her ID?" Pointing to my wife.

And this... was the coolest moment... of my life. The coolest (actually, the only cool) thing I have ever said spontaneously.

"She doesn't need an ID." I can't recall, but I hope I waved my hand in a Jedi-like when I said that.

And then he motioned us through. In the rush of the moment, I can't say for certain, but I think he said... "She doesn't need an ID" as he did so.

To Goa With Love

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With the luxury of non revenue travel also comes the joy of spontaneous adventure. Our trip to India would begin with either a flight from Newark into Delhi or Mumbai. We had tentatively prepared an itinerary around Delhi being our entry point but when that flight was full and we were able to score the last two seats on the outbound Mumbai flight we had to rearrange things a bit.

The first of which was to find some place to stay upon arriving at nine pm after a 14 hour flight. A quick room was booked by Susan on her iPhone in her middle seat two rows behind me before the order was given to turn off all electronic devices. Since we were the last to board.... and had bags to stow... this had to be done in minimal time. Although we got an auto reply confirmation that the room was booked we did not get confirmation that transportation would be waiting for us upon arrival. I was hoping for a man with a Stork sign. See these guys every day but never had the luxury myself. Since all we had was an address and no international data plan we would be reliant on the prepaid taxi driver to get us to bed.

We chose the hotel based on a google maps search for its proximity to the airport and the number of positive reviews it had on hotels.com. All was set. Except our driver didn't know where it was as evidenced by his frequent stops to ask other drivers and his exaggerated hand gesturing to his roster with the hotel name on it. Apparently it wasn't where the dispatcher at the airport said it was and was more than the quoted "prepaid" fee. We were lost on the streets of Mumbai surrounded by traffic, congestion and stifling heat.

Bumper to bumper traffic in India is exciting enough without a lost and angry taxi driver who appears to be close to kicking you out for under payment.

From the backseat, we called AT&T and ordered some international data and secured not only our location on Google maps but that of our destination and were able to direct our driver to the red pin on the map. "A few more blocks," I'd say with no guarantee he understood me. What on the map was just a few miles took over an hour to reach.

Our first two nights in India were on Mumbai's Juhu Beach at the Sun and Surf hotel, which apparently is often frequented by Bollywoods elite (or so Wikipedia says). I naturally assumed any handsome couple by the pool was said "elite"... just as they naturally assumed I was a rich American tech startup guru. Although not the most conveniently located for exploring by foot it was easy to hire a driver to take us around and he waited for us at each stop to show us our next destination.

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After two days on the beach we decided to research our next stop. Since Goa was an easy an affordable flight from Mumbai with lots of hotel options... we booked tickets on Jet Konect for the next day. Goa has plenty of resort options during the peak season with beach and water sport activities but we assumed those places would have limited offerings during monsoon season (now). To ensure we would be entertained we found an inn in the heart of Goa's capital city, Punajim. The inn is five generations owned and blocks from the market district. An open outdoor second level dining patio which according to the in room guide book allows guests to "sit on old style chairs and marble top tables over a beer or local feni or sipping a juice, one can observe local town people go about their mundane chores. A little imagination - down memory lane to better times, to an old fashioned world of chivalry and you can envision youthful Romeo's serenading comely damsels from below the balconies or perhaps almost hear the wistful lament of Portuguese Fado emerge from the shadows of twilight. A comfortable bed, good food and drink, an informal warmth and friendly and caring staff soon make the Panajim Inn a romantic home away from home."

The inn is amazing. Since it is off season we had our choice of any room for the same 'basic deluxe' price. Roughly $40 usd a night. We are on the second floor with a balcony overlooking a courtyard with a day school behind it. Having no clock, we are awoken each morning by the school kids running down the alley to class.

On the first day I asked a man down the street if I was going to rain today. He said it's going to rain for the next four months.

As of today, we have been here for two days with plans to leave for Mumbai tomorrow. Although the forecast has called for "rain with spells of heavy rain" we've had no trouble getting out taking a tour of a spice plantation, visiting 16th century churches and shopping the street vendors of Goa. We are off to talk to a friend we've made across the street and then hire a taxi to take us to see some temples. After we hope to have dinner at a local Goan establishment our new friend told us about. Although it's not as good as his moms food, he said.

6 hours ahead to 3 hours behind

On Woensdag (Wednesday), we left Amsterdam for Reno. Well, we attempted to leave Amsterdam for Reno. The daily Usairways flight from AMS to PHL was full and rather than roll the dice on one flight we figured a safer bet would be to roll the dice on two relatively full flights out of Frankfurt. And if we didn't make these flights? Hey, we get to spend the night in Germany! Fortunately, we had three days to meet my folks and grandparents in Reno. This was Wednesday and we were to meet them Friday.  We bought two tickets on the ICE train to Germany. It's a highspeed train that tops out at 175MPH between cities! Although the room we were in held six, we only shared it with one lady who played Sudoku in German. Sudoku is the international language of road warriors.

ice train

Upon arrival in Frankfurt, we only had an hour before the first of our two options for the states so we sprinted straight for the ticket counter. This flight was to Charlotte and from there we had a few options to get to Phoenix and then off to Reno.

I didn't have to understand German to know the agent wasn't happy about us showing up an hour before departure for an international flight. I'm bearded with a backpack, smiling telling her, "Today, tomorrow, next week. Whenever. No stress." 

"Run!" She says. "You may make it."

So much for pleasantries.

At security I got manhandled. I should have paid him for the attention he gave me. Security was both fast and friendly and done at the gate so the line was short. (The boarding was nearly finished so there was no line.)

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We were the second from the last of the free loaders to get on and sat separate from each other which was unfortunate because typically I get the meaty portions of Susan's meal. My seat mate didn't seem too interested in abliging me in my coachclass habits. "You gonna eat your fat?"

Landed in CLT and I made the command decision to call it a day and spend the night in a hotel. The Phoenix flights were full - as were the connecting flights to Reno and rather than spend all day cramped in a plane, we'd rest and try again in the morning. I called the same hotel we stay at with the airline since it has several nasty food options within a walk that all sounded pretty good after a day of traveling - Waffle house, Cracker Barrel and some sloppy buffet place with squeaky green beans and overly buttered rolls.

Looking at the next days flight options, the most open westbound flight was an early San Francisco flight that would get us in at 9am PT. We could spend the day in San Francisco and then take an early morning Gotobus to Reno for $30 each. We found this option after Googling, "bus Reno from San Francisco".

gotobus

And this is where we are now... hours from the bus ride to Reno! The bus caters to the casino crowd and with a few extra bucks you can buy some chips for Harrah's and get a free steak. Since the bus leaves from Chinatown, I'm hoping it's full of aging chinese ladies off for a day at the casino. And us, two weary travelers with bulging backpacks and well used ipods.

And it does spin

Originally uploaded by stork123

This windmill is down the road from the houseboat. It's spins in the evening and is on the tourmap for travelers. There is a bar below the windmill and next to it is a eetcafe that we stop by most everynight for a drink before heading home. With our bikes locked up a few feet away and guidebooks safely stashed in our bag, we mock tourists who get off the bus for the "windmill photo." I've taken at least twenty. What's been nice about this landmark is it's pretty easy to see while bike riding to help point us in the direction of home. Also on the "hey we live near that" list is the Artis. If we can find the artis, we can find home. But, since we've been peddling around for the past few days, we've become damn near carrier pigeons when it comes to our directional sense. The first week we took public transit (which is exceptional) since it was a bit rainy but the last week the weather has been great and everywhere we go is via bike.

Even though it's overcast and rainy - it's so green. Our 3 weeks in Amsterdam

Maybe it's because I understand about one word in one hundred here (often it's not the sexual reference I think), but there is much less talk about protecting the environment and much more action here in Holland. Each day I see something else that seems so simple but in the US it would be revolutionary. Like all the other quick fixes (personal debt, weightloss, hair growth), we Americans obviously look for the magic bullet rather than lots of small fixes for the greater good.

  • Bikes, obviously. America spent billions building the interstates in the 50's. Damn near every road in Amsterdam has a bike path attached to it. Old, young and rain or shine - people are out peddling around. How refreshing it is to see an old man peddling to work chewing gum and whistling... How bad could your day be knowing that you get to ride your bike home?
  • Toilets with a flusher for number one and a flusher for number two. Although, I tossed a few spiders in the WC and wasn't sure where they fit it... To be sure, I hit number 2. "Shock and Awe" bitches.
  • Walking by stores, I wonder if they are open... its dark in there. It's dark by our standards. Sure those spiral fluorescent lights are greener - but these guys just don't use lights unless need be! How easy is that? Granted, this time of year its bright out from 5am to 10pm. They may burn seal oil day and night come winter?
  • Much smaller trash cans? Maybe it's the houseboat neighborhood here but everyone has much smaller trash cans outside? Do they use less prepackaged foods and eat more local produce? Do they burn the garbage in the oven or throw it in the canal? Either way, i thining about the amount of trash we produce and what we can do to re-use.
  • Everyone brings their own bags to the market or uses shared bags that other shoppers drop off in a bin. Rather than springing for the Trader Joes branded bags advertising how 'green' we are... we need to just use a sack.

Now, Susan and I just need to take what we've seen here and try and implement more into our routine at home. All I know for sure is I can't wait to build the disco shower from here on the boat at home. Which will mean 20 min showers under stobes on a nightly bases! But I'll be sure to hit the one flusher after number one!